The FEI and Trust have a great article here about selecting nosebands for your horse.
When you think of bridles and bits, it’s usually the bit itself that you pay the most attention to. But remember that the bit and noseband work in conjunction, and choosing the right noseband can make a success or failure of the bit.
Nowadays you’ll see all sorts of nosebands, from traditional cavessons all the way through to complicated bridles.
Regardless of whether it’s traditional or not, every noseband has a different purpose with corresponding advantages and disadvantages. And because each horse is unique, they have their own preferences too. So if you were wondering when you might opt for a grackle over a cavesson, we’re here to help.
Here are a few of the most common noseband options, the way they work and the reasons why you might choose them...
The cavesson noseband is the ‘standard’ noseband and is easy to find on bridles across the world. It is one of the most basic nosebands out there and is simply one long band which runs across the bridge of the nose (above the bit) and applies a little bit of pressure across the bridge as well as the bottom of the cheekbones. It is a very kind noseband and is a good option if your horse is easy in the mouth and you want to ride with no interference.
The cavesson is often found with a flash noseband too, which is an extra strap attached to the cavesson. It fastens underneath the bit at the horse’s chin, prevents the horse from opening its mouth and keeps the bit still.
The cavesson with or without the flash is legal for Dressage competitions. You might also see a variation of the cavesson called a ‘crank’ noseband. This is essentially a cavesson with an extra buckle to provide more leverage under the chin. It is commonly seen in double bridles. The leverage allows for a more precise fit. The adjustable nature helps to distribute the pressure evenly, but you must be very careful not to over-tighten the crank noseband.
The drop noseband sits lower than other nosebands. Basically, this noseband runs over the lower part of the nose and circles underneath the bit. Due to the narrower design and lower position, this noseband is a lot sharper than a cavesson noseband. It is seen more often with young horses or those with contact issues these days, as it holds the bit very steady in the mouth.
The drop noseband is suitable for horses that are ridden with a snaffle bit, for example, but can get a little stronger from time to time. The pressure on the lower part of the nose bridge makes these horses come back a little easier and become a little lighter in the hand. It also keeps the horse from opening its mouth and prevents the horse from crossing the jaw.
It is crucial that the drop noseband is fitted correctly. If you place the low noseband too low it can restrict air supply, so it is important that it hangs at the correct height. On horses with a narrower mouth, there is also a risk that this noseband will rest on the lowest part of the nose bone which is very delicate and sensitive.
Mexican or Grackle Noseband
This noseband is also called a figure 8 noseband. It fastens higher up on the cheekbones of the horse towards the jaw, and has two straps which cross over at the central point of the nose and fasten a second time at the chin groove.
The way the design works means that instead of pressure being distributed around the cheekbones and bridge of the nose, the pressure lies in the central point where the two straps cross over. This part often has a piece of sheepskin or fur to prevent rubbing.
The Mexican noseband frees up the nostrils and nose, allowing the horse to breathe totally unrestricted. As a result, you often see it on horses going cross country. It prevents the horse from opening its mouth and from crossing its jaw. It is generally considered to be comfortable for the horse as it avoids sensitive area’s on the face.
However, it’s important to properly position the noseband for maximum comfort. If the straps run over the cheekbone, it can cause a lot of pressure as there’s very little skin and fat to protect that part of the horse’s head.
Choosing the Right Noseband in Combination with the Bit
What many riders do not take into consideration is that the bit and noseband work in conjunction. Changing one of the two will have an impact on the effect of the other on your horse.
Overall, just like choosing a bit, you have to feel what works best for your horse. Nosebands and bits are chosen on a horse-by-horse basis, depending on their preferences, your riding ability, and the horse’s schooling.
Things to take into consideration include:
How the horse reacts to change
What issues you are trying to solve
Whether the bit or noseband might offer too much or too little pressure
Which disciplines are competed in
But one thing to remember is not to assume that changing the bit should be your first port of call. Consider your noseband just as carefully as your bit.